O MacGuffin: “I only quote from the best” - 2

sexta-feira, agosto 18, 2006

“I only quote from the best” - 2

“Burke’s provocative defence of ‘prejudice’ – by which he meant the set of beliefs and ideas that arise instinctively in social beings, and which reflect the root experiences of social life – was a revelation of something that until then I had entirely overlooked. Burke brought home to me that our most necessary beliefs may be both unjustified and unjustifiable from our own perspective, and that the attempt to justify them will lead merely to their loss. Replacing them with the abstract rational systems of the philosophers, we may think ourselves more rational and better equipped for life in the modern world. But in fact we are less equipped, and our new beliefs are far less justified, for the very reason that they are justified by ourselves. The real justification for a prejudice is the one that justifies it as a prejudice, rather than as a rational conclusion of an argument. In other words it is a justification that cannot be conducted form our own perspective, but only form outside, as it were, as an anthropologist might justify the customs and rituals of an alien tribe.
An example will illustrate the point: the prejudices surrounding sexual relations. These vary from society to society; but until recently they have had a common feature, which is that people distinguish seemly form unseemly conduct, abhor explicit sexual display, and require modesty in women and chivalry in men, in the negotiations that precede sexual union. There are very good anthropological reasons for this, in terms of the long-term stability of sexual relations, and the commitment that is necessary if children are to be inducted into society. But these are not the reasons that motivate the traditional conduct of men and women. This conduct is guided by deep and immovable prejudice, in which outrage, shame and honour are the ultimate grounds. Sexual liberators have no difficulty in showing that those motives are irrational, in the sense of being founded on no reasoned justification available to the person whose motives they are. And they may propose sexual liberation as a rational alternative, a code of conduct that is rational form the first-person viewpoint, since it derives a complete code of practice from a transparently reasonable aim, which is sexual pleasure.
This substitution of reason for prejudice has indeed occurred. And the result is exactly as Burke would have anticipated. Not merely a breakdown in trust between the sexes, but a faltering in the reproductive process – a failing and enfeebled commitment of parents, not merely to each other, but also to their offspring. (…)”

Roger Scruton, in Gentle Regrets (Continuum 2005)

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